famous book covers

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⇛ ⇛ Agatha Christie covers

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Quick Review of the True Crime Books I read in 2016 (Part 2)

(Part 1) (Review of books in 2015)

Invisible Darkness by Stephen Williams: This is one of the most unsettling books I’ve read, and I have a lot of mixed feelings about it. Starting with the good, it’s a very complete and detailed account of the relationship between Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka and their crimes. It also offers a good insight into the very controversial legal agreement between Karla and the prosecution, that ended with her serving only ten years despite being an active and willing participant in the rape and murder of three girls. The third act of the book, dealing with this, was one of the better things in the novel, although I wish the actual trial had been covered more in depth. As for the bad… I thought the rape scenes were excessively and unnecesarily detailed, and I felt like the author enjoyed writing those disturbing passages a little too much. His narration is also very uneven, especially in the first part; while I liked his subtle sarcasm while describing the legal proceedings and Karla’s life, he also made some strange time jumps that made it a bit confusing to know when things are happening. There are so many private scenes that he couldn’t have possibly witnessed that he must have made them up, which made me question a little the credibility of the whole book. Finally, his obsession with Karla turns her into a fleshed out, complex character, but the opposite happens with Bernardo, who seems almost a caricature with no real insight. I still feel like I don’t know much about him other than he’s a narcissistic, sociopathic idiot. Bottomline: A good introduction to this case, if you have the stomach for it, but you’ll probably need to complement with other books later (Thank you @adeadlyinnocence for recommending me this book).

Conviction by Juan Martinez: Last year I read Picture Perfect, which is the better book to learn about Jodi Arias and Travis Alexander and how their story ended with her murdering him. This book was an interesting complement because I enjoy the details of trials and this one in particular was a very intense and eventful one. Juan Martinez, the man who prosecuted Arias, describes in detail his investigation and strategy to get a conviction, and he certainly doesn’t pretend to be humble when detailing his role in putting her behind bars. There’s no new information or revelations that I hadn’t seen everywhere else. He’s also extremely biased and portrays her as the worst of the worst, he even talks of her “dark soul” at some point. I have to say, I personally didn’t mind that because I can’t stand Jodi Arias, but if you’re looking for a more objective look into her, you should stay away from this.

True Crime Addict by James Renner: I already wrote about how bad this book about the disappearance of Maura Murray is here, but to summarize: don’t waste your time with this narcissistic, self infolved piece of sleazy reporting disguised as “journalism”. The author is insufferable and seems to think we care about his life while offering nothing new to the actual case of Maura.

Bringing Adam Home by Les Standiford: I can only describe this book as “correct” but is not really very engaging nor memorable, despite covering a very famous and horrible case. The kidnapping and murder of Adam Walsh in 1981 and the many years it took to be solved was one that shook the United States and started many changes. I feel like this book doesn’t quite manage to portray those changes, mostly because it decides to look away from Adam’s parents and their struggle and instead it focus on the story of the detective that eventually gave sufficient evidence for police to close the case naming Ottis Toole as the killer. Toole’s story is also described in some chapters but again, it seems to only give a superficial portrayal of him.

Imperfect Justice by Jeff Ashton: This book was written by one of the prosecutors in the Casey Anthony trial, so it’s important to keep in mind we are seeing only one side of the story, and he certainly doesn’t hold back in showing her as the most manipulative and lying person on Earth. That being said, it’s really hard to see how this woman was found not guilty. Ashton explains all the evidence they had in detail and it’s very compelling, and tells about all the things going on behind the scenes. He also can’t hide his contempt for the defense lawyer (he openly admits he dislikes him) and for the jury too, whom he clearly blames for the ultimate decision of the trial. My only issue with this book is that I didn’t see much introspection or real analysis into why they lost the case.

Perfect Murder, Perfect Town by Lawrence Schiller: It’s so hard to find an unbiased analysis of JonBenet Ramsey’s murder, because so many people who’ve written about it have been “part of the investigation”, which makes it a big no no for me because we know that investigation was far from stellar, for many reasons that aren’t just the fault of the police. This book is hardly perfect (see what I did there?) but it’s a decent start to the case, because it details the investigation and the many inside shenanigans, the Ramsey’s version, the complicated dealings with the prosecution’s office and why they refused to charge the Ramsey’s, and also how the press covered the case. It doesn’t really give much perspective on other potential suspects and the title is misleading, since it suggests it will explore more the context of Boulder, the town where the murder happened, but I didn’t see much of that. I’d say this is an okay book to understand why this case went so wrong, but I don’t think it gives one convincing theory about what really happened.

Devil in the Darkness by JT Hunter: Israel Keyes is one of the most chilling and intriguing serial killers in recent times, not to mention there’s still a lot of mystery around him, so it’s a bit surprising he hasn’t been more deeply covered by other authors. This book is a decent attempt at it, and gives a good introduction into what kind of person he was before he started his crimes; not so much after. Because there are a lot of unconfirmed things in his story, including his victims, the book mostly dedicates time to his most infamous murder, the one of Samantha Koenig. The narration jumps back and forth between the time around that crime and Keyes’ past, with a lot of attention put into his relationship with the mother of his daughter, probably because she seemed to be one of the few people involved willing to talk to the author. I found this book a bit hard to follow at times, but I’d still recommend it if you’re interested in true crime.

The Cases that Haunt Us by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker: As you probably know, John Douglas is the guy that pretty much built the department of behavior analysis in the FBI and is one of the pioneers in profiling criminals. He makes sure to tell you that a hundred times in this book, because he can never flatter himself enough, although I get that the talk of his past experiences is important here to validate his opinions. This book covers famous unsolved or solved but controversial cases through America’s history (plus Jack the Ripper because who can resist) and in each one Douglas gives his point of view of the profile of the suspects, and whether or not they fit with the actual murderer. Lizzie Borden, the kidnapping of the Lindberg Baby, the Boston Strangler and the Black Dahlia are among the cases covered. I found his views in the JonBenet’s case particularly interesting because he got to be involved personally in it, and he got a lot of criticisim because he thought the Ramseys were innocent (and I have to say, strictly from a profiling point of view, I agree with his assessment). The book can get exhausting because the writing is very academical and not very fluid, but it’s also a good learning experience if you like investigations.

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“It is the brain, the little grey cells on which one must rely. One must seek the truth within – not without.” - Hercule Poirot

Mad History/Mental Illness History Reading Masterpost

I was recently asked to give some sources on mad history, or the history of mental illness as it affected those living with it (ie, focused less on psychiatry and more on the people living under psychiatry).  Here’s the short list I came up with.  Most of these books have been read personally by me, but some of them I’ve read ages ago or only in part, so I can’t 100% vouch for all of them.  In addition, please keep in mind that many of these books deal with triggering topics such as ableism, institutionalization, eugenics, and medical abuse.  I have provided some trigger warnings, but they are by no means extensive.

There are some other issues to keep in mind: these books are all based in Western countries and history, and there’s often very little mention of intersectionality, this goes extra for the history books since they don’t have the same reach as the first person sources.  

Also, all memoirs and first person sources go back at minimum several decades since the purpose is providing  history.  It’s good to remember that there’s often different context, for example, much of the psychiatric survivor literature from the 60s and 70s focuses on overmedication and medicating without consent, but modern activists often focus more on access to affordable medication (although the former are still unfortunately problems.

Please feel free to add more books in reblogs or via asks!

FIRST PERSON SOURCES: 

Circle of Madness: On Being Insane and Institutionalized in America, Robert Perrucci, 1974. A 1970s guide to the psychiatric system from the inside out, written by someone formally institutionalized as both a guide to the system and as a way of exposing it to non-psychiatric patients.


From Madness to Mental Health: Psychiatric Disorder and Its Treatment in Western Civilization, Edited by Greg Eghigian, 2010. Compilation on first person sources on mental illness and mental health ranging from 960 BCE to 1990. Be warned the font is unsual and it may be difficult to read for some people, unfortunately.


A Mad Person’s History of Madness, Edited by Dale Peterson, 1982. Another collection of first person sources with a focus on those by people mentally ill. Sources date from 1436 to 1976.


Shrink Resistant: The Struggle Against Psychiatry in Canada, Bonnie Burstow & Don Weitz, 1988. A collection of anti-psychiatry writing by Canadians who experienced the psychiatric system from the inside.


Madness, Heresy, and the Rumour of Angels: The Revolt Against the Mental Health System, Seth Farber, 1993. An collection of anti-psychiatry interviews with those who’ve experienced the psychiatric system firsthand.


Screw: A Guard’s View of Bridgewater State Hospital, Tom Ryan & Bob Casey, 1981. An inside few of the American forensic hospital Bridgewater State from 1972-1975, the same hospital exposed in the famous documentary Titticut Follies. Huge trigger warning for abuse of all kinds and racism.


Cold Storage, Wendell Rawls Jr, 1980. An expose of Pennsylvania’s Farview State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, written by a journalist and based on over 200 interviews conducted with inmates and guards. Huge trigger warning for abuse of all kinds and racism.

HISTORY BOOKS:

Keeping America Sane: Psychiatry and Eugenics in the United States and Canada 1880-1940, Ian Robert Dowbiggin, 1997.  A history of the relationship between psychiatry and eugenics.


The Quest for Mental Health: A Tale of Science, Medicine, Scandal, Sorrow, and Mass Society, Ian Robert Dowbiggin, 2011.  A more critical history of psychiatry and treatment for mental illness.


Remembrance of Patients Past: Patient Life at the Toronto Hospital for the Insane, 1870-1940, Geoffrey Reaume, 2009. Geoffrey Reaume is a historian with schizophrenia who set out specifically to record the history of the lives of patients institutionalized and dealing with the psychiatric system, and this book is explicitly written in a mad history/studies context.


Gracefully Insane: Life and Death Inside America’s Premier Mental Hospital, Alex Baem, 2001. A history of the most exclusive psychiatric hospital in the United States, this book follows from its inception as a public hospital in 1816 until the modern day. This book has extensive coverage of what mental health care looked like for the most privileged in society for the last two decades, and was also the same hospital attended by Susanna Kaysen of Girl, Interrupted fame in the 1960s.


A History of Psychiatry: From the Era of the Asylum to the Age of Prozac, Edward Shorter, 1997. This text is less critical of psychiatry than most on here but still provides a definitive and scholarly history of mental illness under the purview of psychiatry in the western world.


Madness in America: Cultural and Medical Perceptions of Mental Illness before 1914, Lynn Gamwell & Nancy Tomes, 1995. Excellent book on psychiatry before psychiatry was fully established as a discipline. Contains many historical illustrations, paintings, and photographs, some of which may be upsetting or triggering in their treatment of the mentally ill.


The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic, Darby Penney & Peter Stastny, 2008. I haven’t read this one personally yet, so I can’t give as much information, but it’s a history of Willard State and the people who lived their told through the suitcases left behind when the hospital was abandoned and closed in 1995.


Crazy in America: The Hidden Tragedy of our Criminalized Mentally Ill, Mary Beth Pfeiffer, 2007. This book focuses on a more modern era (mostly the last two decades) but I included it because I think it’s an incredibly important critique of the ways in which mental illness intersects with the American so-called criminal justice system. It also serves as a followup to Screw and Cold Storage.


The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease, Jonathan Metzl, 2011.  Metzl covers the ways in which racism intersects with perception of mental illness, particularly for Black Americans during the civil rights movement and the ways in which schizophrenia diagnoses were used to discredit them.


America’s Care of the Mentally Ill: A Photographic History, William E. Baxter & David W. Hathcox, 1994. This hard to find book (I suggest checking university libraries) has hundreds of photographs and illustrations of American psychiatry and institutions dating from the 18th century to mid-20th.


The Shame of the States, Albert Deutsch, 1948. The classic expose of the terrible conditions in American psychiatric hospitals in the mid 20th century. Very hard to find, again, I suggest checking universities, that’s where I managed to read it.  


The Mentally Ill in America: A History of their Care and Treatment from Colonial Times, Albert Deutsch, 1937.  Lesser known book by Deutsch on the early history of psychiatry in the United States. Worth checking out for the amount of detail seldom given in modern books, and for the early example of criticism against psychiatry.

MEMOIRS:

Girl, Interrrupted, Susanna Kaysen, 1993. One of the most famous books about mental illness. Covers the author’s several years in the most expensive psychiatric hospital in America, McLean Hospital, during the 1960s. Worth reading, but also keep in mind that as a wealthy and white Senator’s daughter the author was in an extremely privileged position compared to other patients in the psychiatric system.


The Last Time I Wore a Dress, Dylan Scholinski (published under Daphne Scholinski), 1997. Memoir of a teenager in the 1980s who spent several years in psychiatric hospitals treated for gender identity disorder. TW for transphobia, homophobia, and misogyny.


I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, Hannah Green/Joanne Greenberg, 1964. A classic, Rose Garden isn’t technically a memoir, but it is heavily based on Joanne Greenberg’s lived experience and stay in a psychiatric hospital in the 1940s. The novel also tackles anti-semitism and the stress of physical disease, and was published both under Hannah Green originally (a pseudonym) and then later Joanne Greenburg.


Nobody’s Child, Marie Balter & Richard Katz, 1991. A memoir of an adopted woman who spends the first who decades of her life in psychiatric hospitals dealing with severe anxiety and depression.


Life Inside, Mindy Lewis, 2002. Memoir of a teenager sent to a psychiatric hospital by court order in 1967 for skipping school and smoking pot.


Only for a Fortnight: My Life in a Locked Ward, Sue Reed, 1989. Memoir of a 12 year old sent to live in an adult psychiatric ward. Sue Reed remained there for 5 ½ years before being released. TW for csa/rape and abuse.


My Lobotomy, Howard Dully & Charles Fleming, 2007. Howard Dully was one of the youngest people to have a lobotomy at the age of 12 in 1967. It was performed by the famed Walter Freeman, who popularized the lobotomy in the 30s and through the 60s til his last, disgraced, in 1967. My Lobotomy tells of Dully’s experiences with Freeman, his later time in a variety of institutions, and his feelings looking back as a middle-aged man.


The Dark Threads: A Psychiatric Survivor’s Story, Jean Davison, 2009. The other book on this list I’ve not read, and another memoir of a teenager instituationalized in the psychiatric system of the 1960s and 1970s.

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The concept for this biographical book cover series was centered around the author’s place of origin, and features elements that directly reference those places. A papercraft technique was used to create a three dimensional landscape scene which would enforce the idea of the author’s setting and help achieve a sense of cohesiveness through out the series.

I chose to incorporate fences and other small icons to depict the author’s life and to help illustrate what kind of environment these literary legends were exposed to and how that had direct influence on some of the most famous stories in history.

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Today’s the last day to put your bids in for parts of Ray Bradbury’s estate, which are being auctioned off this week. Some interesting items are on the auction block, including a spade that Bradbury wrote a poem about (bidding starts at $5,000), and three paintings that made their way onto Bradbury’s book covers: Addams Family cartoonist Charles Addams’ 1946 painting of a gothic mansion was used on the cover of Bradbury’s From the Dust Returned (bidding stars at $32,500); Louis Glanzman’s tattooed man painting was commissioned for a 1963 edition of The Illustrated Man (bidding starts at $15,000); and Dean Ellis' Red Illustrated Man was commissioned for a 1969 edition of that same book (bidding starts at $6,000).

Uh, anyone wanna go in on the spade? 

-Nicole